six in the city

Life in the 'hood with a husband, two kids, and two dogs

Find your Tribe

“I’m so happy to be part of this tribe,”—a simple and positive social media post.  It elicits “likes” and supportive comments. Another common post in our running group page, “ten miles with my tribemates, so proud of them.” You’ve seen it, in your team’s Facebook page, or in business groups, or supportive social networks. On Instagram you’ll find the ubiquitous #bridetribe hashtag.  But It seems like there is always someone who responds with something like, “be careful how you use the word tribe. It can be considered racist.”  But they don’t tell us whyWhy would this be?

My brain goes in all sorts of directions—is the bigger topic related to tribes of Africa? Indian history in the United States? Or is it generating a feeling to some that we are making a cultural assimilation or appropriation? If so, I would argue the person complaining about it is the one assigning a negative thought process here.

An old article on talks about the use of “tribe” in reference to the study of African nations which we are not doing…. that use of the word promotes misleading stereotypes, saying “It carries misleading historical and cultural assumptions. It blocks accurate views of African realities.” We can all agree that more education is always a good thing, especially today, on the subject, but we are not college professors. We are not writing academic articles for history journals. We are not referring to anyone from other countries as tribes.  We are not studying African nations and producing reports. We are not influencing any political thinktanks. All of that academic life has nothing to do with calling ourselves a “tribe”.  Even the good old Merriam-Webster dictionary is okay with it:

a group of persons having a common character, occupation, or interest

informal + humorous : a large family

Google search results produced one marketer who says that use of “tribe” in marketing “is over with, don’t use it”. She pokes at the #bridetribe as an example. So what?  The #bridetribes aren’t selling a product or creating social change. They are having fun. They are expressing their friendship.  Her advice may be okay for marketing professionals selling serious products, but we don’t need to worry about that.

Another marketing ‘expert’ says we should come up with alternative words. He offers a long list and here are just a few, which crack me up. He must be extremely woke:

  • Society (vague much?)
  • People (how original!)
  • Horde (really?)
  • Troupe (are we circus folk?)
  • Family (duh)
  • Gang (probably would get flagged on social media)
  • Coterie (WTF?)
  • Syndicate (very “Bourne Identity”)
  • Friends (no shit)

Over the summer on a hot Sunday, I was scheduled to run eight miles in the sticky, humid weather.  Turns out, my legs were done before mile 5 and I gave in and decided to walk the last three-plus.  I encouraged the group to forge ahead. I know my way through town and told them I would be just fine.  A friend hung back and walked with me (even though I repeatedly encouraged her to run off).  Later when I thanked her for being so patient, she said “hey, we are a tribe, we don’t leave people alone out there.”  You see? How is this a bad thing?  Dear marketers, I really don’t think switching “tribe” out for the word “community” would be effective here. 

John Boudreau of Wilbraham, MA described his tribe to me. “Lindsey’s Tribe” is one of the leading fundraisers for our local breast cancer nonprofit, Rays of Hope.   ROH has raised over $15M to date and the funds have stayed local to western Massachusetts residents. (Heck, I don’t matter in this equation, but I did get into running so that I could learn to run the ROH five miles in support of my mother, diagnosed in 2014 and cancer-free today.)

The “Tribe” got its painful but beautiful start when Lindsey lost her first child 12+ years ago. They had just closed on their first house. While she and the baby were in the hospital for five days, a group of friends started coming together to help them get the house cleaned up to move in. What ended up happening was a magical group of over 30 young people who cleaned, painted walls and ceilings, installed lights, landscaped, refinished floors….over a four-day period. The Tribe was born. They were again called to action when Lindsey was diagnosed with breast cancer. They helped with the boys, cooked meals, delivered groceries, went with Lindsey to chemo sessions….”

I recently finished reading TRIBE by Sebastian Junger. The book jacket says that the author “demonstrates that regaining our tribal connection – largely lost in modern society – may be the key to our psychological survival.” In the Introduction he talks about his decision as a young man to hitchhike across northwestern US. “The sheer predictability of life in an American suburb left me hoping—somewhat irresponsibly—for a hurricane or a tornado or something that would require us to all band together to survive.” See, that’s just it – a common goal, a common challenge. Our running group is not enduring military stress like Junger writes about, but the goals and the bonds that form are real.

We are the nation’s stakes

If everything’s erased

What you gonna’ do?

I need some room to breathe

You can run with me

If you wanted to


Not Today, Fleet Feet. Not Today.

We live in cities you’ll never see onscreen
Not very pretty, but we sure know how to run things.
Livin’ in ruins of a palace within my dreams
And you know we’re on each other’s team… (Team by Lorde)

I won’t tell you not to shop at any Fleet Feet locations, but I will try to express my opinion with this keyboard. You can make up your own mind; you’re a grownup.

Without any discussion or warning (seemingly, from my humble point of view as a runner and shopper), Tim and Jill Murphy were removed from their Fleet Feet franchise in Longmeadow, MA, after five years of “building and supporting the Longmeadow community and the local running community” (thank you for that, Allison L.). Corporate swooped in and got rid of them. Yep, after they spent five years taking the store from nothing to a family of hundreds of runners and shoppers.  They’ve supported hundreds of races and events in our area!

It feels like someone tried to burn down my living room to hurt my family. I don’t think that is overly dramatic. We’ve been through a lot together – mostly laughter but many tears. Births, deaths, trauma, celebration, stress, injuries, joy, even a wedding! What a diverse family! We are all ages and from all sorts of backgrounds. We are fast, slow, small, tall, serious, funny, dorky, smart, tough, nervous, annoying, all of it!  We have a supportive environment and get pushed to be our best. We are instant friends.

So, what? Maybe there were other factors going on, like profit, inventory…who knows? It’s retail!   I do not care. I don’t need to know.  I do want to know what sort of “community oriented” firm treats its owners and employees like this.  Fleet Feet, you are not getting one single dollar from me.  I have happily spent hundreds in your store over the years.  You can keep your app and your magnets and your bullshit stories about how you treat people fairly.

I was 47 in 2015 and had never been a runner. I had muddled through one 5K on my own to see what it was like. When I started out, I could only run across a street. After a few weeks, I could run a block.  It took me months to run a mile without stopping.  I joined a Fleet Feet winter training to do a 10K; I had no idea it was known as one of the most difficult (and fun) 10Ks around, St. Patrick’s Day in Holyoke.  I joined the group without knowing a soul and also dragged a friend along. I was truly nervous. We followed strangers through the streets of Longmeadow in the dark, through a snowstorm. We didn’t know the roads. We didn’t know the people. I was petrified. I had the best time. Those strangers are now friends, you know, the kinds of friends that become your family. I never knew I would run several half marathons, continuous 5K races or begin coaching Girls on the Run.

It’s the collective awesomeness of the people I have met and their inspirational and amazing feats, from the speedy marathoners to the people who are simply walking; the people who bounce back from health challenges and get back out there. Tim and Jill are the center of this family. It feels, Fleet Feet, like you’re trying to send our family scattering. I’m here to tell you we are a tribe and we will survive without you. Now, four years later, I can’t imagine rewinding and never wearing running shoes, and never having met everyone. I’ll probably never be fast. I’ll never “break the tape”. I’ll never stand on a podium. But I’ve already won. These people push you further, they call you out on your baloney–THEY are the community. Some corporation with a focus on its bottom line is NOT our tribe. This makes me sad. We were always so proud to be part of the Fleet Feet family and its history.

Hours after hearing the news, I returned to the store to see of couple of part-time employees looking shocked. The “corporate employee” was having trouble figuring something out at the register, which, inwardly, brought me joy; but it’s sad to see something so valuable be driven into the ground by its mother ship. Corporate Employee made no eye contact; didn’t ask who I was, no “good morning, how can I help you today?” Nothing. Good luck, Fleet Feet, with your ice cold corporation. Our little family may not have a “living room” at the moment, but we will thrive without you. I know that Jill and Tim will continue to do great things, even though their corporation tried to clip their wings. Fly, guys—fly!

We joke that runners are “weirdos” (we use porta-potties during winter races where it’s way below freezing); we are “freaks” (we go out to run 12 miles on frigid, pouring mornings) and sometimes we are “stupid” (we run while eating donuts and doing burpees). So yeah, we are – we are freaking devoted. We are weirdly supportive. We are stupidly aware that big business sucks sometimes. We are stubborn, determined, and we know when to call “bullshit” when we see it.  I was reminded by one in our running family that this actually can be looked at as a blessing. Imagine what comes next. We will be stronger. Imagine what we can do together.  Yes. But I am still mad.

Read a guest blog post for the Longmeadow Shops by Jill Murphy HERE, about motivation. Does this sound like the voice of someone who is not interested in seeing people succeed?  

The Hirsute of Happiness

So, this column did NOT win the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition. Stop reading here if you anticipate disappointment. It’s just silly fun. We seem to be a society obsessed with hair: how to grow it, how to remove it, how to preen it on-trend. It’s just a follicle.

I read an article this week which showcased an old study claiming that hairy people are more intelligent. As a reasonably hairy and intelligent person, I can’t find fault. Suspicions of hair’s kinship with smarts would be confirmed if one were to point to the not-so-scientific evidence of recent “reality” TV plots featuring lifelike ladies fighting over a waxed and chiseled mannequin-man. Does one’s intelligence become reduced, if one chooses to endure the grooming and endless preening required of HD television?  I’m pretty sure my legs get 5 o’clock shadow by noon, and I could add some rasta beads to the mix by the end of a week and become the unwilling hostess of a Jamaican extravaganza if I didn’t keep up with it.

Depositphotos_36212655_m-2015Will Forte was a guest on the Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon in December. Based on another trending topic in social media, they decided to have a lab look for evidence of “fecal matter” in his beard. Although the analysis revealed many common bacteria, he was relieved to discover he did not in fact have a “shit beard”.  All of this – studies about hairy people, beards and their potential inhabitants, and the moustache trend – could it be backlash from the part of our society that says “hey, celebrate the follicle!”  We’ve endured many ads for products over the years to help us become better, balder versions of ourselves. Maybe it’s time to keep our shower drains clear.

The hipster phenomenon reigns. He’s a sleeker, stylish, self-aware creature that can pull off just about any fashion. His beard is not, in fact, ironic, but a tip o’ the all-season wool hat to keeping it real. It could be the year of hair. Will the “age of Aquarius” be back? What about the long chagrined armpit? We remember the original commercials for Epilady, a torture device found under many 1990s Christmas trees, and now we have its modern infomercial equivalents. Maybe the refreshing acceptance of hair will put an end to hearing strangers discuss their Brazilians, and I don’t mean their Portuguese cousins. As a hairy kid who’d have done anything to get out of gym class and avoid the humiliation of exposed legs every season, I’m not sure it’s a trend I’m willing to embrace. Embrace is, however, the name of one of my razors. Hmmmm.


Baby, You’re a Firework

A few years ago, after bringing our daughters to see the Katy Perry movie “Part of Me” in 3D, a 40-ish friend said to me, “I want to be Katy Perry!  Look at her eyelashes!”  What struck me as ridiculous and childish (does she secretly want to strut around a stage in a tasseled silver number?) turned out to be pretty Zen. Had my friend reached a higher level of self-awareness after witnessing spinning tassels? I didn’t remember Buddha making a cameo, but he would rock the tassels. The movie on the surface:  a bubbly sparkly fluttery mess of confetti, a self-indulgent tour movie to squeeze another $10 from each loyal fan. Yet, woven throughout is an optimistic and positive message to young girls, and all humans, that you can be whomever you choose.  Don’t worry about what others think of you!

I dreaded going. 3D glasses give me a headache, and I still think of the Red Hot Chili Peppers as a “new” band. Could someone whose first concerts were the Kinks and Black Sabbath be entertained in a cloud of bubblegum, hair extensions and sequins?  Despite my readiness to toss Katy into the “shallow” category, I found myself admiring her for the effort she makes to reach young people. Tweens, gays, and middle agers all appreciate her style. Katy’s reach isn’t limited to the tween girl demographic.  You can’t help but like her, dammit.

When I first heard her earworm-style pop songs a few years back, I assumed she would resemble every other record company extrusion:  plastic, predictable, and cookie cutter; on the charts for a few years til the reality show and then the dramatic tabloid downfall.  I didn’t expect to hear she grew up in a very religious Pentecostal household, but that explains the teenage angst she drew upon while writing songs. Nothing like a bit of dogma to push you into craving an exit strategy. Her sole musical exposure was Gospel, until she got an earful of Alanis Morissette. Ok, I thought, I can get behind someone who is inspired by Alanis—she’s got a great voice and she’s edgy, artsy, and sometimes angry!

Katy famously sang to bring awareness to the issue of domestic violence at this year’s Grammys. Her career often contains highlights which bring attention to serious issues. I remember catching “Night of Too Many Stars” hosted by Jon Stewart in 2012. Katy sang a very moving duet of “Firework” with an 11-year old autistic girl. Stewart claimed to have a little dust in his eye when he returned to the stage to emcee.

When tragedy hit the SABIS International Charter School in Springfield, Massachusetts in February of 2015, Katy Perry’s message suddenly became something real, not some superstar cause-of-the-day. Kathryn Mauke, age 17, was allegedly killed in her home by an ex-boyfriend. She was a Senior and star student who had just received many awards and scholarships, and was known for her love of all things Katy. Her family and friends have created a social media campaign to try to get Katy’s attention to the story.  Their goal is twofold: to increase awareness of dating violence, and to give Kathryn’s sister Mariah an opportunity to meet Katy Perry in person. The family feels a strong connection to their sister through Katy Perry’s music. On the Friends of Kathryn Rose Mauke Facebook page, a post reads, Katy’s Grammy performance which brought awareness of domestic violence came just 3 days before Kathryn’s murder. Katy is so respected and admired by the younger generation. Her voice would speak so loudly to bring awareness to dating violence with teens. Deaths like Kathryn do not have to happen and could have been avoided with more education on how to identify the signs. More education is needed so that our youth can protect themselves. We need something good to come out of Kathryn’s death and it would be a fitting tribute.”

So, I encouraged my friend to “embrace her weirdness”, as Katy would say. Nothing wrong with finding a little Katy Perry sparkle in your day to help get you through it.


butterflies and stars

Big Bang Theories

It was summer. It was the early ‘80s, so it was a time of simplicity before I navigated the years of big, stiff Aqua Net bangs and the goofy, zip-zip sound of parachute pants in the late teen years. It meant loose schedules free of schoolbooks and plenty of that blithe feeling you can only get when you’re 12 and summer stretches before you. My sister and I spent a lot of time with both sets of grandparents. With our grandparents on my father’s side, we drew and painted and played the Mille Bourne card game. They encouraged our love of reading. We spent time outside and searched for glass marbles in the soil among the tomato plants in their backyard garden, believing that tiger-eye magically appeared and Grampy would feign surprise each time we unearthed one. When we weren’t gardening or doing puzzles or running in the sprinkler, they’d tell us about their families from French-speaking Canada and County Kerry, Ireland. We knew Grampy had been in World War II. He wasn’t vocal about it, and as kids, we only had a general inkling what that meant. It seemed an ancient piece of history.

One Saturday they toted us off to a family event at the Swift River Gun Club in Belchertown. Parents of today will likely read that and feel an instant curl of disgust. It’s natural, isn’t it, since we live in a time where, sadly, children make the news in gun stories alongside words like Uzi or Newtown.  Back then, guns weren’t something to debate. They used to be a regular activity for regular people, who were happy to train properly in their use. They weren’t a political statement. They weren’t a symbol of doom. We were taught rules and respect not just for the adults dishing out those rules, but respect for the skill and danger that is part of learning about shooting targets. You may think the gun club to be an irrational, irresponsible place to bring your grandkids but my sister and I know it to be the opposite. We learned that respect; you knew there were rules to follow and that safety was number one. You didn’t play with guns. You didn’t touch them without supervision. You never, ever pointed one at a person even if you knew it was empty. Maybe it’s because we were always around them that we had held an innate sense of safety and regard. Maybe it’s because as we grew up, we didn’t hear about a daily shooting. Maybe it’s because WWII is part of our family’s fabric, or that hunting and fishing was in our DNA. Who knows? Guns were a healthy skill and recreational activity, not something to use as a show of power, personal control, or political clout. It was not a matter of trying to create a right-sided persona to align ourselves politically, or a matter of feeling rebellious or tough to appear left and liberal. We knew zip about political stances and barely understood the Jimmy Carter/peanut jokes that abounded. All we knew was that we loved spending time with our grandparents.

As an adult, I can’t say I’m comfortable around guns. They scare the shit out of me, but I have toyed with the idea of being properly trained and licensed. Honestly, I don’t understand this sudden extreme need to be armed because of “today’s society” and to have so many average people aligning themselves prepper-style with 14 tons of toilet paper and a stack of weaponry. There are tv shows devoted to doomsday and prepping and an us-vs-them mentality. My conflict lies in understanding the awesome tactical skillset that is shooting and learning about guns, and taking an interest in it, and seeing all the incredible people and training that is out there and trying to mash that up with a natural aversion in being associated with the ultra-paranoid preppers that seem borne from ultra-conservative Christian groups and backwoods fanatics. Can’t a girl just learn to shoot without making a political statement?

in memory of Charles E. Duquette, Sr., 1923-2014. "Give a girl a bullet, she can shoot one shot. Teach a girl to make bullets, and she can pretty much do what the hell she wants to do."

in memory of Charles E. Duquette, Sr., 1923-2014. “Give a girl a bullet, she can shoot one shot. Teach a girl to make bullets, and she can pretty much do what the hell she wants to do.”


posts arriving soon …

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